Friday, July 22, 2011

Egypt's new cabinet sworn in

Al Masry Al Youm (Mohamed Azouz)

Ambiguity has surrounded the destiny of Egypt's new Ministry of Antiquities, following a recent cabinet reshuffle approved on Thursday.

No one has been named to replace the previous and only minister to ever run the ministry, Zahi Hawass. Before the January uprising, the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which Hawass also headed, functioned as Egypt's highest antiquities body and stationed under the Ministry of Culture.

The current secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, supports abolishing the ministry and turning it into a council controlled by the cabinet.

"Antiquities do not need a minister. Egypt's antiquity sector's policies are regulated by the Law 117/1983, which grants it sovereignty," Abdel Maqsoud told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

He explained that the antiquities sector funds itself independently and does not need government allocations, noting that its revenue covers expenditures.

The head of the Central Administration of Middle Egypt Antiquities, Abdel Rahman al-Aidy, though, is against the idea. He admitted, though, the sector's return to the Ministry of Culture is unlikely, especially with antiquities employees rejecting the idea.

Los Angeles Times (Amro Hassan)

Nominating new ministers turned out to be an ordeal for Sharaf after his initial choices were opposed by either activists or ministries’ officials. The prime minister announced earlier in the week that Zahi Hawass, the archaeologist known for his National Geographic documentaries and close ties to the Mubarak family, was to be replaced by Abdel Fattah el Banna as minister of antiquities. But Sharaf reversed himself and decided to temporarily keep Hawass in his post.

“Dr. El Banna has accused several of the antiquities employees of corruption and thus triggered much rejection against him holding the position. Essam Sharaf consequently believed that it wouldn’t be appropriate atmosphere for him to work,” the government announced in a statement.

Hawass told MENA on Wednesday that he was asked by Sharaf to carry on his duties but wasn’t mentioned in Thursday’s list of ministers. A Cabinet spokesman later announced that the ministry of antiquities would be downgraded to a Cabinet-affiliated office and not be its own ministry.


Egypt's new ministers took the oath of office in front of Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, on Thursday, official MENA news agency reported.

There were 14 new members in the cabinet. Ministers of foreign affairs, finance, health, industry and trade, religious endowment, civil aviation, military production, higher education, communications, transport, agriculture, irrigation, local development and public enterprises were newly appointed.

The Antiquities Ministry was annulled in the reshuffle. The ministers of interior and justice, whom some youth groups urged to be sacked, were not changed.

Lezget (Linda S. Carbonell)

So, last Sunday, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities and television star Zahi Hawass was escorted out the back door of “his” Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square in Cairo. He was removed from office in a sweeping change in the cabinet demanded by new protesters gathered in that famous Square. Today, he got his job back.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had appointed Abdel Fatah El Banna of Cairo University to replace Dr. Hawass, but the appointment met with vociferous objections from the antiquities staff and archeologists around the world. It was a matter of being caught between groups of angry archeologists, since Hawass was chased through the street on Sunday by those who really, really dislike him before his bodyguards could get him into a cab. But other archeologist demanded his return.

Dr. Hawass is a controversial figure, to put it mildly. He has been criticized for being too dictatorial, for not doing enough to make his nation’s antiquities and history accessible to Egyptians, for grandstanding in front of the cameras all the time, for accepting bribes for digging permits (very old practice, by the way, dating back to both French and English control of the sites), not paying interns, giving favors to friends, making himself filthy rich because of television and book contracts, trying to destroy the reputations of any scholar who disagrees with him, and exploiting female staffers, as well as using the services of hookers and escorts during overseas trips.

On the other hand…..

This is not the place to go into the protests in Egypt, but there are some good news reports floating around for those who want to get to grips with the protest demands and the general feelings and ideas that seem to be circulating amongst the protesters.

There's a good summary of the current status of the so-called Arab Spring on The Economist website entitled Revolution Spinning in the Wind.

There's a short summary of the situation on the BBC News website by George Alagiah: Old habits die hard for Egyptian security forces.

On the Foreign Policy website in an article entitled Five Months of Waiting Sharif Abdel Kouddous asks "what happens when a revolution stalls out?" The story is posted over four pages.

Al Ahram Weekly has listed the main demands put forward by the protesters in simple bullet points:

In Marginalia. The Elephant in the Room, also on Al Ahram Weekly, Mona Anis looks at the mood in Tahrir Square and argues that the the protesters are not as united as some writers and analysts believe. She particularly cites an article by Robert Fisk in July 12th's Independent.

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